Watch your head
Most of the bike riders in Israel, both those who ride the roads and those who favor terrain, did not need the reminder of the new law that has just come into effect that obliges every bicyclist to wear a helmet.
On the eve of Rosh Hashanah 11 years ago, I fell off my bicycle. I lay on the road, my hip bone broken and with head injuries. Fortunately, the head injuries turned out to be only a few bruises and scratches. The helmet I was wearing saved my head, and probably my life.
The serious injuries occurred even though I was riding at a relatively moderate speed of 30 kilometers per hour. I recovered within a few weeks and returned to my training schedule and my previous fitness.
Early one morning about a year later, I saw my friend Meir Yifrah riding with dizzying speed down the steep, winding road that leads from the town of Mitzpeh Ramon into the Ramon Crater. He reached a speed of 70 kph. I had a clear view of him as he lost control and crashed onto the hard asphalt. I was certain that he had sped to his death.
But Yifrah, a flexible fellow, rolled on the road a few times and was bruised all over, but his head remained without injury and without helmet, which was smashed to smithereens. That is exactly what helmets are made for: to absorb the hard blows, diffuse their impact and protect the head.
Most of the bike riders in Israel, both those who ride the roads and those who favor terrain, did not need the reminder of the new law that has just come into effect that obliges every bicyclist to wear a helmet. They have known for years that this is their obligation, because it provides the best protection for the head. Most of them have been wearing helmets for years, even before MK Gilad Erdan (Likud), who sponsored the legislation, came up with its wording.
Amazingly, though, despite the importance of the law, Erdan came under criticism from bicycling advocacy group Yisrael Bishvil Haofanayim (Israel Bicycle Association), which was joined in its attack on the law by several "green" organizations and by MK Dov Khenin (Hadash), who for some reason are getting favorable coverage in the press. They have started using scare tactics in an attempt to undermine the new law.
Their reasoning is puzzling. They claim that the new law, which requires uncomfortable helmets to be worn, will deter people from riding bicycles, with the result that the number of bicyclists will decrease and the number of cars will grow and air pollution will thereby increase.
This is a groundless argument. It recalls the illogical opposition in the past by motorcyclists and moped riders to wearing helmets, citing similar arguments, and the struggle against the law making it compulsory to wear seat belts in cars. Has the number of motorcyclists or car travelers decreased in the wake of those laws?
The truth is a lot simpler, but not all bicyclists are aware of it. Every fall from a bike, even at the slow speed of 5 kph, is liable to result in an irreversible head injury. Even the participants in the Tour de France are required to wear a helmet, and they are virtuoso professionals of bicycling.
This truth is even more relevant in Israel, where bicyclists are exposed more than their counterparts in the West not only to substandard roads but above all to the danger of injury at the hands of wild car drivers. It is not by chance that neurosurgeons support Erdan's legislation. No one knows better than they what can happen when a human head encounters a hard surface.
Like the seat belts and the motorcyclist's helmet, the bicyclist's helmet is a worthy and necessary means of protection. It may be an uncomfortable means, but it does not interfere. The proof: In events sponsored by the Israeli Triathlon Association and by the Israel Bicycle Association, their thousands of members are required to wear a helmet. Because helmets save lives.